ALABAMA CONGRESSMEN FLIP FLOP ON LABELING ISSUE
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Two Alabama congressmen were among members of the U.S. House of Representatives who helped defeat legislation Wednesday that would have upheld mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meats. The legislation would have helped American consumers know where their food comes from, and would have helped American producers differentiate their high-quality products from imported meats.
U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus and U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, both Republicans from Alabama, voted against an amendment to the FY2006 agriculture appropriations bill that would have protected implementation funding for mandatory COOL for beef from further delays. The amendment was defeated by a margin of 187-240. Without the amendment, the House spending bill prevents the U.S. Department of Agriculture from implementing the mandatory COOL program that was part of the 2002 farm bill.
Alabama Congressmen Bud Cramer, Terry Everett, Jo Bonner, Mike Rogers and Artur Davis all voted in favor of the amendment.
Congressman Bachus voted in favor of similar legislation in 2003. Congressman Aderholt previously had favored COOL and even sponsored a bill in 1998 that would have required COOL for frozen food.
The Alabama Farmers Federation, the state's largest farm organization, represents 464,000 members throughout Alabama. The Federation has a policy supporting COOL.
"We are disappointed in the vote and especially with the fact that some of our Congressional delegation didn't fully support consumers' rights to know where their food comes from," said Federation Director of National Affairs Keith Gray. "Before shoppers purchase clothing, they can look at the label and see where it came from. Our organization believes that shoppers should have at least those same rights before they buy food for their families."
Hood Harris, Aderholt's chief of staff, said numerous small, family owned businesses have contacted their office in the past two weeks asking for more time to implement this requirement.
"Congressman Aderholt wants to make sure consumers are treated fairly and have information about country of origin of the products they buy, but not be unfair to family-owned businesses that might be put at a disadvantage," Harris said.
Congressman Bachus said a large group of Alabama grocery store owners made a special trip to Washington to ask him for a one-year extension from the immediate implementation of the Federal labeling requirement.
"This is a federal program for which compliance is hard, complicated and expensive," Bachus said. "It carries severe penalties and fines if followed incorrectly. Labeling the country of origin on beef that consumers purchase is something that I continue to believe is quite important, however, even the House Agriculture Committee, including its chairman, found that a one year extension is a legitimate request."
The Federation will continue to push for COOL and consumers' rights to know, Gray said, adding that seafood already is required to be labeled. Numerous surveys show that American consumers will choose American-grown food if given the choice. COOL provides them that choice, he said.